A couple of weeks ago as I was waiting by the door to let students in for workshop, two eleventh grade students approached me with a request to facilitate a Middle School workshop. They explained that they had developed an advocacy project as part of a school course on Social Justice in which they had to design and coordinate an educational workshop for a younger population. The topic they had selected was the injustice of and increasing incidences of cyber bullying in schools, and their proposal was to talk with eighth graders about the realities of bullying and social media in high school. I was so intrigued by their request and impressed by the initiative they displayed that I brought the appeal to the Scholars Middle School Specialist to see if it was feasible. With her permission I was able to arrange for three Archbishop Carroll eleventh grade students to guest facilitate in the Scholars eighth grade workshop, additionally allowing me to consider the possibility of engaging students in similar leadership opportunities in the future.
I was equal parts nervous and excited to see how they would rise to the occasion, but I was also curious about how they would be received and responded to as instructors by their younger peers. It took them a little while to find their sea legs and gain a comfort correcting students and focusing their attention, but half an hour in they had already exceeded all of my expectations. They were able to adjust and revise their plans in the moment and defer to and lean on one another when they got stuck, all while keeping students engaged and ‘reined in’. They found a balance of sharing responsibility talking to the larger assembly and leading smaller group activities separately, and when appropriate speaking from personal experience. I resisted the temptation to offer advice or intervene and allowed them to learn through experimentation and group consensus. I was flattered to overhear and observe amidst their ‘group think huddles’ and attempts to redirect and transition between activities that they were consciously trying to recall techniques that they’ve watched me use in High School workshops. I had to muffle my laughter as I heard my name come up in their conversations, but I couldn’t keep from beaming with pride as they discerned the rhythm that worked for them as instructors in their own right.
In my opinion, one of the most lucrative pieces of Middle School curriculum are the theme workshops that invite guest facilitators to design lesson series around their passions and areas of expertise. What I was excited to imagine was the realistic possibility of engaging high school students in those roles and simultaneously fostering a sense of camaraderie within the broader Scholars community and leadership development as well as creativity in learning models and application. I am so encouraged by this cycle of learning and teaching and convinced that there is no better replica of experiential learning. Embodied is this snapshot is everything I hope that students get out of participating in program: self-confidence, creative license, collaboration, self-efficacy, community engagement, and a desire to share their gifts. As my first program year draws to a close and I prepare to begin a second, I am so appreciative of the chance to support students’ leadership cultivation, and am newly committed to recreating similar opportunities for young people to discover their innate teaching abilities. (A big thank you to Amen and Gami for the inspiration!)
(Amanda Lindamood is a Scholars Program Instructor at FLOC).